When Kate’s son, Carter, was 10 days old, the suburb in which they live experienced a power failure that lasted for four days. This created a set of circumstances that left Kate feeling vulnerable and afraid. “My baby was a tiny newborn and, as we live in a freestanding house with a large garden, security is of the utmost importance,” she says. “Because the power was out for so long, we lost all battery backup for the electric fence, beams, gate and house alarm. The baby monitor died, as well as our cellphones. The baby breathing pad battery also died and, for a brand-new mom, that was just awful.”
Kate moved Carter’s carry cot next to her bed so that she could check on him constantly. She couldn’t warm her baby’s room or bath him, and her husband slept downstairs to make sure the house was secure. After two days of this, they borrowed a small generator to charge their phones and turn some lights on. Kate occasionally drove to the gym to shower, and was invited by a supportive network of friends to stay over or shower. However, with a tiny newborn the couple were reluctant to take up these offers.
And now with the COVID-19 pandemic peaking in South Africa it’s even more difficult to take up such offers as you need to think about the health and safety of your family.
Load shedding lessons
Power was restored after four days and Kate’s life returned to normal. Now, when regular load shedding hits, she and her family rely on their gas stove for cooking and Consol jars for lighting. She says she has also become a pro at changing nappies by headlamp. “I make sure the cellphones and laptops are charged, and it’s off to bed early for a movie by the romantic glow of an electronic device.”
Kate’s experience was the worst-case scenario that many South Africans fear. While most load shedding bouts last for four hours instead of four days, it does highlight how reliant we have become on electricity for security, warmth, cleaning and food preparation.
Most of your baby’s needs can be met by going the ‘natural’ route – breastfeeding, co-sleeping and not bothering too much about a nightly bath. Modern accessories make some aspects of parenting easier and become part of our daily routine. When those routines are disrupted it can be hard to adapt, so identify the crucial areas that need to be kept up and running when the power goes down and make sure that you have a backup plan.
It should come as no surprise to hear that criminals often target areas affected by load shedding, taking advantage of inactive alarms and other security features.
This makes it vitally important to have a backup power supply for your alarm, electric fence, garden beams, electric gate motor or other access systems. These days, most security systems include backup batteries. However, this solution won’t stand up to repeated four-hour stretches with no power.
By now, you will know if your system is struggling to cope with load shedding. If it is, call in a security consultant to boost your backup power. Unfortunately, the solution is often a little more complicated than simply adding a bigger battery. As one security provider explains, “Getting a longer-lasting solution in place isn’t as simple as just buying a bigger battery, because recharging a bigger battery puts extra strain on your system.”
He advises that you should purchase an extra power pack to support the original backup system with an additional 12 volt 7 amp hour battery.
It’s important to speak to a security consultant about how many security features any one power pack can support, and for how long, to make sure that you are covered in the inevitable case of load shedding.
Electric ovens use a lot of electricity. Even if you get a backup solution like a generator or an inverter, you probably won’t be able to power more than one hotplate. If you can cook with gas, you’ll save yourself a whole lot of trouble and expense – even when there’s no load shedding. If you aren’t in the market for a new oven just yet, you can pick up a two-plate Cadac gas stove or a camping cooker attachment (you’ll need to buy a gas canister for both of these). If you need warm water, it’s a good idea to get a large thermos flask and top it up before load shedding times so you can mix and warm baby food and do a top-and-tail baby wash with a facecloth.
If you’re trying to keep your baby’s room warm, the best alternative is a gas heater. However, don’t leave it on, unsupervised, in the room where your baby is sleeping. You can roll one in to warm up the space at bedtime, and then bundle your baby up in a cosy baby sleeping bag.
Consol solar glass jars are a leading South African innovation that came along at just the right time. While they don’t light up a room with a comforting yellow glow, one or two can give you enough light to get most things done.
A head torch will also be a good investment that will allow you to handle your baby with two hands, while still being able to see what you are doing.
Load shedding for toddlers
Sarah has three sons, Alex, Eli and baby Josh, and load shedding is far harder on her older boys than her newborn. Soon after Josh was born, she was home alone with the three boys when load shedding hit. As a new mother, she hadn’t had the chance to get to the shops for groceries, and there was nothing that she could prepare without her microwave or oven.
She decided to take the kids out for an emergency dinner, but it was rush hour in Sandton and the traffic was gridlocked because the robots were out. She spent two-and-a-half hours stuck in the car with no emergency dinner to show for it. Sarah has now put the following backup plans in place:
- The fridge is full of ready-to-eat finger foods.
- The laptop is always charged so the children can watch a movie in the evenings.
- There are Consol jars around the house so the children have light to play by.
- In winter, she uses a gas hotplate to heat water for hot water bottles to tuck them into bed with.
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